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Meet Veronica DeJesus

Today we’d like to introduce you to Veronica DeJesus.

Veronica, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My dad and mom met in the 60s.  My dad is Puerto Rican and my mom is half Chinese and half Italian. My dad was accused of a crime, so he chose to change his name and live on the run. My mom joined him and they were off, and they had us kids along the way. My older brother Ralph was diagnosed with hydrocephalus when he was 3 months old. Ralph was in and out of hospitals and has had 17 near death surgeries. His shunt (a plastic pump installed in his head to help water flow in and out) would stop working and we had minutes to get him to the hospital. Traveling from state to state Ralph would be in and out of hospitals. I don’t know how we managed to survive, but we did. 

My dad modified our birth certificates on an as needed basis, so we had different identities and we were on the move. Our life was always filled with a recipe of movement, near death, impermanence, magic, laughter, prayer and lots of luck.

My Personal Timeline:

MICHIGAN 1972/73
TAMPA 1973
NAPLES, FL 1974/75
OAKLAND, CA1979/80

Has it been a smooth road?
I have had so many challenges that I have faced and made it through to the other side, but my biggest challenge currently is that my brother Ralph has been missing for a while now. He is my brother who, while we were on the run, survived 17 operations to relieve the fluid and pressure on his brain. He is my hero. He disappeared on purpose and since our birth certificates are all different, I don’t have enough information to find him.  So I feel like I am using my art practice and my community engagement work as a lighthouse in the event he wants to find me.  I am using my opportunities to find my family, share in the journey and simply heal.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am a builder, a maker and a doer.  Right now I am making drawings and paper models, and collecting things for my sensory project. I am also researching public art and how to initiate creative platforms that activate space and bring more diversity into our neighborhoods.

My art practice has always led the way for me; for example, I learned to read and write braille because I was working with typewriter drawings made just using the period key. People would say they looked like braille, so I called up the Lighthouse for the Blind in SF and literally the next day I was having my first braille lesson. I would go on to teach art to the community there. I realized that this was a transformative aspect of my practice that I needed to develop further. I was also having shows, getting reviewed and working 3 jobs while couch surfing. That was the life for a while.

In 1999 I began working at the Academy of Sciences where I started making sculptures with all the excess cardboard.  It was awesome.  The toys are packaged in cardboard which is a great material to work with. It’s surprisingly soft yet firm to hold shapes. I made finger puppet horses, birds, and a John Wayne six shooter with holster and rings.  Working in the retail space at this museum was really stressful so making these objects and bringing them to life in this way was kind of life changing for me. This cardboard work got me into Grad School.

In 2000, I found my family after 24 years when our family split up in the early 1970s. We all had fake names because of what my dad was charged with and his desire to be free.  So I had a hard time tracking them down. I finally got the information from my dad and in 1999 I filed a missing persons report at the Salvation Army for my brother Abraham. Shortly after I get a call from my brother Abraham at my work at the Academy of Sciences – it was one of the best moments in my life. I was filled with feelings of love.  Abraham connected me with my mom and my brother Ben. We all had a family reunion right before my Grad Program started.

In 2004, my brother Abraham was sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife, and their children are left with her parents. Our family is devastated.  I was working at Dogeared Books at the time and the owner Kate gave me permission to put drawings in the window of people who had just passed away.  The project grew and grew and the window activated many conversations and allowed people to have closure.  You can still go to Dogeared Books today and see my copies in the window. Recently my full collection was show at the Berkeley Art Museum and Rite Editions published a book of all the memorial drawings.  

My life, my art and my materials are always leading the way.  Through the good stuff and the not so easy stuff too. I am continuously weaving art practice, community engagement work and finding practical ways to connect on a larger scale.

Currently I am Head Arts Facilitator and Gallery Manager at UCPLA Washington Reid Gallery where I work together with our artists, our staff and our community to build exhibitions, curriculum to create more public dialogue around place, space and identity. I will also be working together with Liberate Collective offering a Youth Justice Art Workshop Series here in LA as well as doing projects with Boys and Girls Club and Mercy Housing in San Francisco for ReImagine week (a creative project surrounding loss and dying, offering more dialogue and more community support). I will also be giving an artist talk with my colleague and artist friend Aragna Ker at CBU University (our focus will be, arts and adaptive technology).

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Portrait Photo of Me was taken by Paige Wery. Artwork Documentation by Ian Byers-Gamber

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